French Theologian Peter Abelard Dies

French Theologian Peter Abelard Dies

Abelard and Heloise
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Peter Abelard dies. A French theologian in the scholastic tradition, Peter Abelard becomes famous as a philosopher for his approach to the problem of universals: do universal characteristics exist independently of the particular things that have them, or not?

Realists say they do, nominalists say they do not, and conceptualists say they do but only mentally. Abelard's position was conceptualism and he used the example of mental abstraction to make his case. Individual things exist, but if we focus on one characteristic shared by many objects, we can "know" this characteristic as if it were a "thing" in its own right.

Abelard had many opponents, including St. Bernard of Clairvaux who not only objected to Abelard's humanism, but also a rationalism in Abelard's arguments which seem to deprecate the importance of faith. St. Bernard of Clairvaux had Abelard's teachings condemned at the council of Sens in 1141.

One teaching in particular that is attacked is Abelard's view of the atonement. According to Peter Abelard, Christ died to to serve as an example of love and mercy, not to repay our sins. This viewpoint will be labeled the "moral influence" theory of atonement, because Christ was supposed to be an influence on us rather than a ransom for us.

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Peter Abelard

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